When I was in the middle of the worst period of my life – literally a time when it seemed like everything had collapsed and it felt like I deserved an award just for getting out of bed – I was given a leadership position in my church. I vividly remember that day. I sat in the chair while I was told what position they would like me to fill and immediately burst out crying. The thought that I remember going through my head was “I can’t even take care of myself. How in the world am I supposed to take care of others?”
In hindsight, that position was the best thing that could of happened to me.
Don’t get me wrong. It was overwhelming. And there were times when I didn’t feel like I could emotionally handle the problems of other people on top of my own. There were also lots of times when I felt like I was probably the worst leader in the world. And there were plenty of moments were I wanted to quit and crawl back into bed with my Netflix and my ice cream. However, instead of being left to wallow in my emotions (which were extremely dark and depressing), I was forced to get outside of myself and start thinking about others. People were depending on me and so I had to force myself out of bed to go to activities and to help others. I had to listen to the problems, fears, and trials of others. I had to put others before myself.
The act of serving someone else is an extremely powerful thing. Slowly (very slowly), as time passed, I could sense myself healing. As i focused on other people, my own dark thoughts and feelings began to lighten. I gained perspective. I gained purpose. I gained compassion. I may very well have been the worst leader they ever had, but, for me, that position was a life saving one.
I think about that lesson of service form time to time, and I am always grateful when I have the opportunity to remember its power. I had two such opportunities over the past few days. The first was on Saturday. Once again my body had decided to wake up before the sun (don’t ask me why). As I lay there in bed, I remembered that there had been a church service project scheduled for that morning – one where we would take care of some chores and yard work for widows in our congregation. I had forgotten until that moment and so hadn’t planned on going. I thought of all the work that I could get done that morning. I thought of the joys of snuggling under my covers and trying to go back to sleep (it was really early on a Saturday after all). I thought of the fact that it was supposed to rain and that it was most likely going to be cold and miserable. There were so many easy excuses of why I should just stay put. I mean, I hadn’t actually committed, so no one was expecting me. I could just have a lovely morning to myself.
Which is when I realized that, actually, it was also possible to have an amazing morning.
So I got out of bed, put on my workout clothes, and headed to the meeting spot. There was a fairly good sized group of people who had made it out that chilly Saturday morning and we found ourselves divided into smaller groups so that we could spread out to different homes. I was in one of the “yard work” groups with two homes assigned.
The work was nothing spectacular. Weeding (A LOT of weeding), pruning, rock collecting….the little tasks that these women needed in order to make their yards beautiful. Yet, over the course of the morning, you could see the mood of the entire group lift. As we went about doing work that these women could not do for themselves, their love and appreciation warmed our hearts. The workers bonded over dirt and plants and we all felt a little lighter. When we were finally finished, there was the satisfaction of a job well done and of hearts that had been lifted.
This sort of service is one of the easier types to do. Sure, I “gave up” a Saturday morning, but really, other than getting out of bed and getting dressed, it wasn’t really that inconvenient. I ended up having a lovely morning with my friends, got to dig around in a garden (something that I enjoy) and feel good about having helped someone in need.
Sometimes, however, service isn’t that convenient.
This morning I once again woke up early (I really am curious as to how long this will last). I had to do some reading in order to prepare for work, then the plan was to hit the gym, get ready, and head out. It was going to be a busy morning but I knew that if I stayed focused, I could get it all done and be out the door on time.
I hadn’t been up long when I head my roommate calling my name. She had tweaked her neck the day before and had already resolved to take the day off from work and go to the chiropractor. Overnight the pain and stiffness had worsened to the point that she could barely move. She needed to be treated and she needed it soon.
With her neck the way it was driving was not only going to uncomfortable, it would have been dangerous (to both herself and those on the road). So she called into my room to see if I could drive her to the chiropractor as soon as it opened.
I admit it, I hesitated. I looked at the clock. Her chiropractor was 20 minutes in the opposite direction of my work, so it wasn’t a simple matter of dropping her off on my way. There was no way that I could get everything done that I planned on doing that morning and still take her in. I briefly toyed with the idea of asking if she could wait until I could come home that afternoon. And then I looked at her pain-filled face.
It simply came down to what was more important. And when I asked myself that question, there was no contest. So into the car we went.
It wasn’t convenient. We hit rush hour, so the trip was slow. The slow trip meant we didn’t get to the chiropractor right as he opened, so by the time we arrived, he was a little backed up. Which meant the visit took longer than expected. I did bring my reading with me and got in my “workout” by pacing in the parking lot as I waited. However, as the minutes ticked by I started to get really nervous that I wasn’t going to make it to work on time. I thought of popping in the office to check how things were going, but I realized that this would only make my roommate feel bad. I mean she didn’t have any control over how fast it went.
So I called my assistant to be prepared to cover for me. And I kept reading. And pacing. Eventually she finished and came out and we sped towards home.
It all worked out. My roommate felt better. I didn’t get a speeding ticket as I raced towards home to change OR when I raced to work. I made it on time. Even though I forgot a major item, work still went well. And my day was made better. Though my morning didn’t go at all as I planned, choosing to put another person before myself had a huge positive effect on me and my life.